Since unveiling Skyrim to the public, Bethesda have continually stated their ambition to improve the Elder Scrolls formula with the fifth entry in the sprawling series. We loved Oblivion, but it was a dense, often frustrating experience. It was a volatile mix of choices and variables, dynamic features sitting awkwardly with dated design. Skyrim has removed many of this extraneous baggage, and Bethesda is keen to convince fans it's not a case of making the game more accessible; it's simply to improve and streamline the experience.
"In our games or others' games, they give you a character menu and say, 'Who do you want to be, what powers do you want?" Bethesda's Todd Howard tells Gamasutra. "[Players think,] 'I don't know, I haven't played yet!" Each Elder Scrolls has you pick your character's race, gender, specialties and so on, often restricting you to a specific path with no idea where it leaves. The levelling system in Skyrim has been completely overhauled, allowing a more organic style of progression which the player can sculpt with far greater control.
"What happens in Oblivion is you start the game, play for three hours, and then think "I want to start over, I chose wrong." explains Howard. "So we'd like to sort of alleviate some of that. I also think the controls work better [too] ... it's more elegant". He mentions Call of Duty, the world's most popular online shooter whose multiplayer contains a pretty deep and complex levelling system not too dissimilar to an RPG.
Howard went into details the other elements the team is looking to build upon with Skyrim. He cited NPCs as a key feature in the series which Bethesda have often struggled to perfect. "But I think the big things for us are still -- and we still struggle with -- are the NPCs, the interaction, and how they act," he reveals. "That's because the game is so dynamic, we don't want to script them, so weirdness can ensue sometimes. So we came out of Oblivion thinking, hey, how do we get more believable characters on the screen who are reacting to you."
Traversing the landscape in Skyrim is set to be a more believable affair than past Bethesda titles. Whereas in the likes of Oblivion and Fallout 3 you could essentially travel in one direction, regardless of the undulating topography and laws of physics, in Skyrim scaling a mountain will require you to climb its steep sides where you can find purchase, rather than simply bunny-hop up vertical cliff-faces.
Howard also spoke about Skyrim's general tone in comparison to past Elder Scrolls games. The titular province of Skyrim is a far more rugged landscape than Cyroddil, which had a high-fantasy feel in comparison to Skyrim's more realistic, Scottish Highlands-aesthetic. Howard explains Skyrim is a far more violent, bloodthirsty place. But it's not simply about gore and bloodletting, he assures us.
We're hoping to get more hands-on with Skyrim at Gamescom in August, and you can be sure we'll bring you up-to-the-minute news on Bethesda's jaw-dropping RPG. [Gamasutra]